Two years ago, the Department of Defense implemented a new National Defense Strategy that recognized we live in a world that includes an “increasingly complex global security environment, characterized by overt challenges to the free and open international order and the re-emergence of long-term, strategic competition between nations.” While the United States and our allies have been largely focused on counterinsurgency warfare since Sept. 11, our rivals have developed new technologies and capabilities seeking to challenge our advantage. Therefore, it is paramount we change and do so quickly, as the consequences of failure and success are both profound. Shortly after taking my current position, I published “Accelerate Change or Lose” to articulate why I believe change is required.
While many acknowledge the growing threat and need for change in our Air Force to be ready for tomorrow’s fight, the pressing question is: How?
To that end, I issued four action orders to focus and direct our energy, and harness the talent, creativity and resilience of our airmen to accelerate the change we need in a purposeful direction. Here’s what we’re doing right now, with much more to come this year, within the four action orders: airmen, bureaucracy, competition and design implementation.
Airmen: It is critical we recruit, train and retain airmen who are capable of dealing with the ambiguity and complexity associated with a high-end fight. Therefore, we’re looking at ways to continue attracting and training airmen to become confident in decision-making at the lowest levels of command. Equally important is taking care of our airmen to provide a quality of service and a quality of life where all can reach their full potential.
To do so, we’re revisiting our talent management, evaluation and promotion systems. We have already implemented new development categories to ensure deserving officers from all career fields are competitive for promotion, and we have started expanding our talent management programs to some of our enlisted career fields. We have also created a diversity and inclusion council that is engaged and already implementing impactful changes to set the foundation for sustainable change that will become an enduring part of our Air Force.
Bureaucracy: While bureaucracy exists in any large organization as a necessity to address complex problems, we are giving the Air Force’s bureaucratic processes a tune-up by better identifying clear roles and responsibilities for developing, making and executing strategic decisions. This clarity — when reinforced with disciplined execution — is designed to build upon our innovative culture, enhancing efficiencies, speeding up the decision cycle and driving change faster at all levels in our Air Force.
Similarly, we are close to completing a massive undertaking that has revisited all Air Force instructions to streamline guidance, and we have gone to great lengths to slash and eliminate needless working groups at the headquarters level.
Competition: In my time as commander of Pacific Air Forces, I gained a deeper understanding of China’s military capabilities and ambitions. Airmen must be taught and have an appreciation of the Chinese and Russian mindsets, military cultures and decision-making processes. Instilling a level of cultural and technical understanding of our rivals, to include how they are modernizing and planning to fight in the future, will help airmen discern which problems are most urgent and help us bridge our current force structure to the force we must rapidly develop to compete, deter and win.
Design implementation: We must determine the capabilities and technologies that will make us competitive in the future. This entails clearing a path to implement the future Air Force design by removing capabilities and programs that are outdated or unaffordable. The Air Force must clearly articulate our future force design so that it is understood by our key stakeholders, including Congress, our industry partners and the public. We’ve already amended our force-planning models to identify options that can free up money that will be necessary to rapidly assimilate new technologies, from artificial intelligence, to Combined Joint All-Domain Command and Control, to next-generation fighters and bombers. To implement these changes, we will collaborate with Congress and industry as we all work together to make tough choices important to our national security.
From its inception over 70 years ago, the Air Force has excelled in the conduct of its five enduring core missions: air superiority; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; rapid global mobility; global strike; and command and control. We have an obligation to maintain the standard of excellence our nation has come to expect, regardless of the environment.
Given the scope of the challenge with great power competitors such as China, we must make tough decisions to maintain a technologically superior force — one that is agile, resilient, and can operate at superior speed and tempo in the face of a complex fight.
Change is critical and speed is paramount. Innovative problem-solving is deeply woven into the Air Force ethos. From the rapid development of the jet age and breaking the speed of the sound barrier in the 1940s, to the development of the sophisticated intercontinental ballistic missile inventory in the 1950s, to the design of air superiority platforms designed in the 1960s and 1970s, we have a history of rising to the occasion. While the need to change and develop is always pressing, not in recent history have the stakes been this high. The Air Force must accelerate, must change and must prepare for the future because the status quo will be insufficient, and failure is not an option.
Gen. CQ Brown is the U.S. Air Force’s chief of staff.